Federal and state job safety laws require employers to make reasonable efforts to provide a safe workplace. That duty may include steps to reduce the risk of violence. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as well as some state agencies have issued guidelines for health care operations, night retail establishments, and employers in general.
HRHero White Paper: Combating Workplace Violence
Those guidelines are designed to help employers fight violence, but they also raise the prospect of OSHA citations if the problem is ignored. Employers also may be liable for negligence if they fail to exercise ordinary care to avoid potential violence. Violence by employees can create liability for negligent hiring, retention, supervision, or training if their conduct was reasonably foreseeable.
Employers and business property owners also face potential liability for failing to address an increased risk of violence from the outside, such as a threat of nighttime assaults or robberies in a high-crime area. Workers’ compensation laws cover some workplace injuries due to violence, but not all. The rules vary from state to state.
Identifying possible vulnerabilities to workplace violence and ways to prevent or reduce the risk of violence is a key part of crisis planning for businesses. America’s workplaces also have become venues for virtually all forms of violence — from verbal threats to murder. No industry has escaped the occurrence of workplace homicide.
And all targets of major terrorist attacks in the U.S. have been workplaces — the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, and media outlets and government offices that received mail laced with anthrax.
Federal and state job discrimination laws compel employers to implement harassment policies and take prompt action when harassment occurs. Sexual, racial, and other forms of harassment can lead to liability for compensatory and punitive damages. In addition, federal law may expose employers to liability for gender-motivated violence.
Conducting background checks on job applicants is one weapon in an employer’s anti-violence arsenal. A thorough check may weed out someone with a history of violence or behaviors often associated with a heightened potential for violence.
Criminal history information, credit reports, and job references can provide important information. Substance abuse testing, psychological tests, and sharp interviewing also can be useful tools, not merely to avoid workplace violence but to hire effective, productive employees.
Basic Training for Supervisors – easy-to-read training guides, including workplace violence